Incentives to get kids coding are everywhere. But it doesn’t just have to be kids stuff and anyone can get a head start on programming by trying simple, fun and creative coding games, robotics and electronics kits.
Gaming now comes with a large dash of education and coder cool thanks to companies that emphasise learning as much as playability. Encouraging kids to pick up programming skills alongside improved hand-eye coordination and high scores is the way forward. Erase All Kittens is the brainchild of Drum Roll HQ and it banishes the unnecessary fluff of gaming by getting youngsters to save kittens by coding HTML.
Not that Drum Roll sees it that way. CEO Dee Saigal says they may “make games with a purpose”, but fun is always centre stage. Players have to build platforms, create portals and change the colour of the sky to see their enemies, by using standard HTML instructions. Simple it may be, effective it definitely is.
Drum Roll is seeing its game translated into Dutch, Italian and Turkish as it gathers global fans, plus it’s got the attention of the European Commission, Codeacademy and the National College for Digital Skills. Every couple of weeks the small but dedicated team adds another six levels and it may be in select schools in early 2015.
Minecraft has been a huge influence on game players the world over and with its portability to the Raspberry Pi has encouraged users to get involved in programming and games design. Roblox is another ‘build your own world’ game environment in the mould of Minecraft. By signing up for an account players can script games for their friends and the Roblox community. There are 4.5 million active users each month and the site is growing in popularity.
Among the most popular games built in 2014 are a simulated pizza parlour, Roblox high school, natural disaster survival and mad paintball. The graphics are impressive, colourful and smooth and the gameplay depends entirely on the games you join or what you design.
For retro-heads and anyone who grew up on BBC microcomputers the thought of a DIY 8-bit computer is the ultimate in proper computing. The Fignition FUZE is an educational easy build computer kit that can be used to teach the principles of programming. Okay, you can play games on it too, but thanks to the designer’s (company head Julian Skidmore) insistence on keeping it simple, the FUZE only has 8Kb of RAM (upgradeable to 32Kb) and 384Kb of storage.
That means black and white blocky text, building things from scratch and working within constrained limits, but as the website points out it is great at stripping computing back to the basics. FUZE runs a version of the language Forth, offering anyone who wants to invest the £20 to buy the starter kit a chance to grapple with good old-fashioned coding.
Fignition’s kit is compatible with Arduino and is open source hardware compatible, is backed by Computing at School and as a sweetener there are some simple games available for the platform – Lunar Lander, Pong and, wait for it… FIGgy bird.
In keeping with the retro-computing theme anyone who owned the popular 80s personal computer, the ZX Spectrum, will be happy to hear it is to be relaunched as a handheld gaming console called the Vega. Now a new generation of gamers will be able to experience the tinny sound and edgy gameplay of the original. Hardly educational, outside of how difficult games like Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy really are, the console looks lovely and has now hit its Indiegogo fundraising target. Sir Clive Sinclair, the computer’s inventor, has backed the campaign and each one sold will include a donation to a children’s charity.
Like all good robo kits it is 100 per cent open source and, once you are feeling competent, is hackable so you can bend it to your [good or evil] creative designs. Check this short film of the Mirobot in operation at Maker Faire Newcastle 2014.